Could it be that the Book of Job isn’t so much about the suffering of Job, a man of faith, as it is a critique of conventional religion and religiosity itself?

In my volume Eden Embraced, I approach Job’s plight as if the text were a Hebrew Upanishad, one paralleling a type of classic Hindu writings. Yes, the thread holding the plot together follows one innocent man’s spiritual journey through unspeakable suffering. Blameless as he is – and uncomforting as God’s role is here – Job would have every right to turn in other directions, though he chooses to remain faithful.

The story is endlessly troubling, especially for those who read it from a legalistic perspective. From the outset, God is arrogant, even vain and cruel, rather than compassionate or even all-knowing. And Satan, a member of the sacred council, could be a favored golfing buddy arranging another wager.

The setup can easily lead to contortions as a believer attempts to reconcile other, more conventional, definitions of the Holy One with the action at hand, especially when Job’s buddies begin to weigh in with their platitudes. In many interpretations, Job’s faithfulness is held up as an example to emulate, no matter what. Fat lot of encouragement, right?

As a writer, though, I can see the axiom of trying to address a situation by taking an opposing, uncommon position, which is where I see the story of Job originating. After all, we are faced with the question of just where does evil originate, along with human suffering. Why not blame the Creator?

Is there even a large measure of humor in this? Take the events over the top, asking just what more can happen to poor Job? And that’s where his so-called friends step in, adding misery to his plight and their condemnation rather than comfort.

Would it be nearly as compelling if they did the right thing? If Mother Teresa had showed up instead?

By the way, I delight in the happy ending, which many purists object to as a later revision that doesn’t fit with the general thrust of the plot. Feel free to weigh in as you will.



  1. While I am not particularly well-versed on the Book of Job, your comments on it do remind me of Paradise Lost, in which God appears somewhat harsh and Satan is often seen as the protagonist. I wonder if you have read Milton’s Epic, and if you have what your thoughts on it might me?

    • Revisiting a few pages this morning also recalls some of Robert Bly’s criticisms of traditional English poetry in general (see his Leaping Poetry), and his arguments in favor of the daring sparks that happen in more “primitive” poetry.
      Milton’s elaborations, for all of their lofty language and imagination, take me too far away from the direct encounter of the original. The parade of Greek/Roman references that are too much a part of formal poetry in the period appear to me as an alien intrusion, for one thing, and Milton’s interjection of an angel/messenger rather than the Holy One in pronouncing the so-called curse remains in my eyes an offensive “correction” to the original in Genesis, for another.
      Perhaps someday I’ll be able to accept Milton’s masterpiece on its own merit, but for now the seemingly simple story in Genesis 2-3 casts too strong a shadow over the later elaboration and its accretions.

  2. Happy ending? What about the poor dead wife and children, not to mention the animals? The “make nice” ending (which, as you point out, is believed by most scholars to be a later accretion) for me detracts from the power and the awe of the story itself (for me, the most powerful book in the Bible).

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